Revelations Highlight Iran’s Role in Anti-US Attacks by Iraqi Militias |
BAGHDAD – A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander urged Iraqi Shiite militias to step up attacks on US targets during a meeting in Baghdad last week, three Iraqi militia sources and two Iraqi security sources told Reuters close to the gathering.
US forces in Iraq and Syria have been repeatedly attacked following visit by Iranian delegation led by Revolutionary Guards intelligence chief Hossein Taeb after deadly US airstrikes against supported militias by Iran at the Syrian-Iraqi border on June 27.
While encouraging retaliation, the Iranians have advised the Iraqis not to go too far in order to prevent a confrontation from escalating, three militia sources briefed on the meeting said.
The Iranians, however, advised them to expand their attacks by retaliating against US forces in Syria, according to one of the three militia sources, a senior local militia commander informed of the meeting.
The conflagration comes as major differences cloud diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was scrapped by former US President Donald Trump but which Iran wants to reinstate to allow it to resume its mainstream oil exports.
A senior official in the region, who was briefed by Iranian authorities about Taeb’s visit, said that Taeb met several Iraqi militia leaders during the trip and conveyed to them “the message from the Supreme Leader on maintaining peace. pressure on US forces in Iraq until they leave the Region “.
Since the US airstrikes, attacks on US troops and personnel or the bases where they operate have intensified in Iraq and spread to eastern Syria.
Iran’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters questions about the story, and officials at the Revolutionary Guard’s public relations office were not immediately available for comment.
Iran’s envoy to the UN this month denied US accusations that Tehran supported attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria and condemned US airstrikes against Iran-backed militants there. low.
There was no immediate response from the Iraqi government or the prime minister’s office to questions about the meeting.
The sources Reuters referred to did so on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
– Near Khamenei –
The largest Shiite-majority country in the Arab world, Iraq has been the scene of a US-Iranian rivalry since the US-led invasion that overthrew Sunni leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The Shiite militias are waging a sustained and increasingly sophisticated campaign against the American forces which, after withdrawing in 2011, returned to Iraq in 2014 at the head of a coalition to fight the extremist group Islamic State (IS ).
But attacks, including drones loaded with explosives, have shifted into high gear since the US airstrikes, which Iran-aligned militias say killed four of their members.
The two Iraqi security sources familiar with the groups’ activities and operations said the Iranians handed their Iraqi allies air maps of US positions in eastern Syria during the July 5 meeting.
The Pentagon has said it is deeply concerned about the attacks, including a July 7 rocket barrage at the Ain al-Asad air base in which two U.S. servicemen were injured.
A senior officer in the guards, Taeb is a middle-ranking Shiite cleric considered by insiders and analysts of Iranian politics to be close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The senior regional official said Khamenei sent Taeb to Iraq after site visits by Brigadier General Esmail Qaani, who was appointed to head the Guards’ expeditionary wing, the Quds Force last year, failed. failed to get an escalation.
An Iraqi government official said it appeared Iran was looking to use its allies in Iraq to push for a return to the nuclear deal, under which severe US sanctions would be lifted in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s atomic activities.
A senior Iranian diplomat said Taeb’s visit to Baghdad indicated Khamenei was directly involved in Iraqi affairs following the murder of General Qassem Soleimani, the former Quds Force chief, in a US drone strike in Iraq at the beginning of last year.
A spokesperson for one of the Iran-backed militias affected by the US airstrike last month confirmed the recent attacks were carried out by the Iraqi Islamic Resistance, a reference to Iran-backed Shiite groups .
“The military escalation against US forces will continue until all of their fighting forces leave Iraq,” Kadhim al-Fartousi, spokesman for the Kataib Sayyed al-Shuhada faction, told Reuters.
Saad al-Saadi, a senior official in the political bureau of the Iranian-backed group of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, said that if the Americans continued to hit the militias, more effective attacks on American forces could be expected. anywhere in Iraq and Syria. .
The meeting was held in the upscale Jadiriya neighborhood of Baghdad, at a villa just across the Tigris from the United States Embassy, two of the local militia commanders said.
Iran and the United States began indirect negotiations in Vienna in early April to restore the nuclear deal. No date has been set for further talks, which adjourned on June 20.
Some Western and Iranian officials have said the talks are far from concluded, as disagreements over US sanctions should be lifted and over which nuclear commitments Iran should make and when they remain in place.